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Written questions submitted to a party from his or her adversary to ascertain answers that are prepared in writing and signed under oath and that have relevance to the issues in a lawsuit.

Interrogatories are a discovery device used by a party, usually a defendant, to enable the individual to learn the facts that are the basis for, or support, a Pleading with which he or she has been served by the opposing party. They are used primarily to determine what issues are present in a case and how to frame a responsive pleading or a deposition. Only parties to an action must respond to interrogatories, unlike depositions that question both parties and witnesses.

Interrogatories are used to obtain relevant information that a party has regarding a case, but they cannot be used to elicit privileged communications. The question must be stated precisely to evoke an answer relevant to the litigated issues. A party can seek information that is within the personal knowledge of the other or that might necessitate a review of his or her records in order to answer. The federal rules of Civil Procedure and the rules governing state court proceedings provide that when interrogatories seek disclosure of information contained in corporate records, the party upon whom the request is served can designate the records that contain the answers, thereby making the requesting party find the answer for himself or herself. No party can be compelled to answer interrogatories that involve matters beyond the party's control. Objections to questions submitted can be raised and a party need not answer them until a court determines their validity.

Interrogatories are one of the most commonly used methods of discovery. They can be employed at any time and there is no limit on the number that can be served. Although they are not generally used for purposes of evidence in a trial, they might be admissible if they satisfy the rules of evidence, such as the best evidence rule or are an exception to the Hearsay rule.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. as part of the pre-trial discovery process, either party to a lawsuit may send a set of written questions to the other party. These questions (interrogatories) must be answered in writing under oath or under penalty of perjury within a specified time (such as 30 days). Several states ask basic "form" interrogatories on a printed form, with an allowance for "supplemental" interrogatories specifically relevant to the lawsuit. Normal practice is for the lawyers to prepare the questions and for the answering party to have help from his/her/its attorney in understanding the meaning (sometimes hidden) of the questions and to avoid wording in his/her answers which could be interpreted against the party answering. Objections as to relevancy or clarity may be raised either at the time the interrogatories are answered or when they are used in trial. Most states limit the number of interrogatories that may be asked without the court's permission to keep the questions from being a means of oppression rather than just a source of information. While useful in getting basic information, they are much easier to ask than answer and are often intentionally burdensome. In addition the parties may request depositions (pre-trial questioning in front of a court reporter) or send "requests for admissions" which must be answered in writing. (See: discovery, deposition)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.


questions put to a person. The most usually encountered sense is of questions put in writing to a litigant or witness to be answered on oath. The purpose is to limit the scope of the inquiry.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

INTERROGATORIES. Material and pertinent questions, in writing, to necessary points, not confessed, exhibited for the examination of witnesses or persons who are to give testimony in the cause.
     2. They are either original and direct on the part, of him who produces the witnesses, or cross and counter, on behalf of the adverse party, to examine witnesses produced on the other side. Either party, plaintiff or defendant, may exhibit original or cross interrogatories.
     3. The form which interrogatories assume, is as various as the minds of the persons who propound them. They should be as distinct as possible, and capable of a definite answer; and they should leave no loop-holes for evasion to an unwilling witness. Care must be observed to put no leading questions in original interrogatories, for these always lead to inconvenience; and for scandal or impertinence, interrogatories will, under certain Circumstances, be suppressed. Vide Will. on Interrogatories, passim; Gresl. Ea. Ev pt. 1, c. 3, s. 1; Vin. Ab. h. t.; Hind's Pr. 317; 4 Bouv. Inst. n. 4419, et seq.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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